A Kiss from France

Written by Susan Hughes
Review by Janey Hill

A note to a stranger in a box of gun shells; a factory girl imagining the soldier reading her words. Could the romance become a reality?

All the munitions girls wrote notes, hoping to spread cheer in the trenches; Lizzie alone received a reply. Harry’s letters didn’t come often, didn’t say where he was – but she felt the warmth in his words. Eunice could hardly forgive Jack for being the last man on the street to serve – he only went when he was conscripted, but he went in the end, leaving her and their son, but she could hold her head up now, knowing Jack was serving his country. Romance is fleeting for the men and women of this delightful novel, but it is a story of love, not a love story.

Life for women in 1917 London was tough, a different world from before the Great War started. A Kiss from France creates a well-drawn and evocative picture of life back home, where the war effort by women was to equal the physical side of life in the trenches. The narrative touches on sensitive areas where girls are suddenly released from the constraints of domestic service, and where middle-class parents find that freedom brings new risks.

Hughes shows the decisions that had to be made, not all of which went well, demonstrating the implications without seeming to teach or preach. Poignant vignettes, like the queue at the foundlings’ hospital, bring home the reality of the hardships of daily life during the ‘14-‘18 war. I felt I knew these women, who grew into grandmothers with a past hidden in their smiles. A promising debut novel, showcasing an very good author to watch in future.